Top GOP member on House Intel calls for more Ukraine support

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FILE - Rep. Mike Turner,R-Ohio, speaks during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 29, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Turner, the new top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee says President Joe Biden's administration needs to ramp up military and intelligence support for Ukraine. (Rod Lamkey/Pool via AP, File)

WASHINGTON – The new top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee called Wednesday on President Joe Biden’s administration to ramp up military and intelligence support for Ukraine.

“I believe that the administration should be actively arming Ukraine so it can defend itself,” Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio said in an interview. “They want to defend themselves. They should be given every opportunity to do so.”

Washington has committed more than $2 billion in military aid to Ukraine since 2014, when Russia seized Crimea and backed an insurgency in the eastern region known as Donbas. In December, Congress increased security assistance to Ukraine to $300 million for 2022, with at least $75 million specifically designated for weapons.

Russia now has troops massed near Ukraine, raising fears in the West that it is preparing a new invasion as it pushes its demand that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO. The Biden administration has rejected Russia’s demand and is expected to provide additional military aid to Ukraine in the coming weeks.

Republicans and some Democrats have pushed Biden to move more quickly to provide Ukraine with lethal aid. Some lawmakers also want the U.S. to impose sanctions on Russia before any potential invasion.

U.S. and Russian diplomats are holding several meetings this week in Europe aimed at resolving the crisis.

Turner replaces Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican who left Congress to become the head of former President Donald Trump’s new social media company. When Nunes was chairman, the committee began a contentious investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

After California Rep. Adam Schiff took over as chairman, the committee led the inquiry into Trump's first impeachment over allegations he abused his power by pushing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate Biden while holding up military aid to Kyiv. Nunes became one of Trump’s staunchest defenders.

Those investigations cast a national glare on the normally secretive Intelligence Committee and strained what members said was a quiet bipartisanship behind closed doors on many other issues.

“Not only do we need to return our focus to our external adversaries and national security, we need to make certain that that information is utilized in a way that helps us make better decisions in Congress," Turner said.

The committee will remain in the spotlight if the GOP wins back the House this fall. Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has already vowed to boot Schiff and fellow Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell from the panel. Turner said Wednesday that any decision on committee membership would be McCarthy’s “sole decision.”

Turner’s call for more forceful U.S. action abroad puts him at odds with some Republicans who take a more isolationist approach. In a widely shared November interview, Turner argued with Fox News host Tucker Carlson after Carlson questioned why the U.S. should help Ukraine and suggested troops instead be sent to the U.S.-Mexico border to stop immigrants entering the country illegally.

“Apparently you need a little education on Ukraine,” Turner told the host.

On Wednesday, Turner said he wants the committee to do more to inform Americans about what he called “near-peer adversaries” like China and Russia.

“One of the reasons why Russia might go into Ukraine is because they see the United States as weak,” he said. “When the United States is weak ... it’s not just that the United States itself is at risk. Our allies are at risk, which of course inevitably puts us at risk.”